Ban broadcast ads to clean up politics


June 24, 2008

So Sen. Barack Obama now wants to skip federal public financing for his campaign ("Obama skips public finance," June 20).

That's one of the main drawbacks to public financing: Candidates can just opt out rather than limit their spending.

Public financing cannot be made mandatory as that would be a de facto government-imposed spending limit. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that such limits violate the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.

I think the questions we need to ask are: Why do politicians need such increasingly obscene amounts of money, and what do they spend it on?

The answer to both questions is television.

Modern campaigns are conducted almost entirely by increasingly expensive sound bites that contribute almost nothing to an understanding of a candidate's true stand on the issues. More often than not, they are merely misleading attacks on his or her opponents.

But the problem is not just what the candidates say but how much it costs to say it. The donors who pay for all those ads expect something in return and usually get it.

I believe the answer may lie in eliminating paid political advertising on television and radio. That is not to say that television and radio wouldn't continue to be an essential part of campaigning in the modern world. But broadcasting companies operate under a government-regulated license. As a condition of that license, they could certainly be required to provide a certain amount of free time to all recognized candidates.

The same Federal Election Commission that, under the current system, determines which presidential candidates qualify for government financing could, instead, determine who qualifies for free campaign time on television and radio.

In all probability, the stations and networks would provide the time in blocks rather than in the kinds of ubiquitous short advertising clips we see today. That would take less time away from the airtime available for commercial advertising and be easier to administer.

However, even if the time were made available in any way the candidate chooses, including multitudinous 30-second clips, the corrupting influence of big money would be severely curtailed.

Candidates no longer would be required to spend the majority of their time raising funds in order to keep pace with their opponents' advertising.

Instead, they could attend more community meetings. They also could get out and meet constituents other than those who pay $1,000 or more for a plate of rubber chicken and some influence.

And perhaps, just perhaps, we would no longer have the best government that money can buy.

Earle Hollenbaugh, Catonsville

NCLB does little to raise scores

According to The Sun, researchers from the Fordham Institute claim that "top students show little gain from 'No Child' efforts" (June 18) because fourth-grade reading scores for the poorest-performing students have increased 16 points since 2000 but scores for the top group increased only three points on a national reading test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

As the Fordham report notes, however, 12 points of the 16-point increase in the low-scoring group occurred between 2000 and 2002, before the No Child Left Behind law was even implemented.

Since NCLB was implemented in 2002, scores for the top students (the highest-scoring 10 percent) have increased by two points; those for the poorest performers (the lowest-scoring 10 percent) have increased four points. That's a very small difference and a modest gain over five years.

And as the Fordham researchers point out, the gains by the low achievers may have had nothing to do with NCLB.

In fact, there has been little overall change in NAEP scores since NCLB began, and no narrowing the gap between children from high- and low-income families.

Stephen Krashen, Los Angeles

The writer is a professor emeritus of education at the University of Southern California.

Immunity may hide surveillance crimes

As a lifelong Democrat, I am disgusted that Democratic leaders endorsed the eavesdropping bill that would grant immunity to telecommunications companies ("House OKs immunity for aiding wiretaps," June 21).

Passing this bill will not stop Republicans from attacking Democrats as "soft on terrorism" in the coming election.

Democrats made this same kind of mistake in 2002 when many of them voted to grant the president the right to use force in Iraq.

It is irresponsible to grant immunity to the telecommunications companies without first explaining precisely what criminal activities they may be immunized for.

If Congress grants immunity to the telecommunications companies, taxpayers will never know what crimes they may have committed and who was responsible for them.

Members of Congress took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

They should show a little backbone or resign.

Richard Ottenheimer, Pikesville

Hitches inhibit alternative fuels

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